Developer’s Journal: The Biggest Apocalypse Rising Update Yet

May

31, 2013

by Gusmanak


Archive

Hey guys, Gusmanak here to talk about our most successful update yet, Apocalypse Rising v.5.0.0. ZolarKeth and I have been hard at work for the past 11 months, developing improvements for Apoc (sorry, I call it that in short) since its release in July, 2012. When I launched the game, I never thought I’d end up spending so much time on one ROBLOX project. I’m fascinated at Apoc’s popularity–why has this game maintained popularity for such a lengthy period of time? What are the most important factors in development of gameplay? What makes Apocalypse Rising special? With this Developer’s Journal article, I’ll answer these questions.

A Solid Foundation

ZolarKeth and I stood by one rule when developing this title: never add weight to something that can’t stand on its own. If we plan on releasing a big feature that will change the game, we will not expand on that feature until it’s solid, functioning, and stable. You’d be surprised how often developers fall into this trap. They become excited about ideas, and worry less about implementation. These half-baked ideas find their way into games, making for half-finished, unstable features. When developing a game on ROBLOX, problems will arise—the average developer hates troubleshooting these problems. When you’re caught in this cycle, the most exciting part of your day is fixing breaks, which isn’t very gratifying. More often than not, developers never fully finish these fixes, resulting in a broken game that causes frustration among players. Even worse, developers often find that in order to solve problems in their game, the game must be radically altered.

The best way to handle problems is to tackle them the moment they’re encountered. It’s easy to run out of steam when you’ve got an unattended list of issues to address. This rule has kept us afloat during the development process, and is simultaneously the reason why Apocalypse Rising has taken nearly a year to get where it is now.

Let the Player Choose

Options make Apocalypse Rising unique. You can choose how to achieve your goals—your experience is entirely up to you. This makes players feel accomplished when they do well, because their individual decisions lead them to victory.

We purposely built Apocalypse Rising to have a heavy focus on choices. In v5.0.0, we added multiple new utility items to the game, ranging from vehicle jacks to flashlights, each with a different and intent purpose. There are currently 19 total utilities in all, but you’re only able to carry up to seven at a time. Choosing your item load out determines your experience in Apoc—if you’re not comfortable with discovering the map for yourself, a compass, map, and GPS will be crucial to your survival. On the flip side, if you’re comfortable with scouting but are looking out for your own well-being, maybe a hatchet, watch and matches are better to take on your journey.

That’s the point of the game, really. You have to decide which utilities will help you live the longest. Though these choices seem minute, longtime players know that they will determine the outcome of your experience.

The recent release of dynamic lighting has radically altered the game. Night time is a whole new environment with the advent of light sources. Before, zombies were less aware of people at night, when it’s hard to see. Traveling at night became common practice among seasoned players. Now, you’ve got to use a flashlight to see at night. Zombies notice flashlights, and so do bandits. Basically, using a flashlight to see paints a target on yourself. That’s why we made each city have a power station. Reach that, and you can illuminate the entire area; though, remember: lighting a city will also draw the attention of zombies at night. Dynamic lighting gives players a lot more to consider before venturing into the night.

Base-building is another recent advent that adds a new layer of complexity to Apocalypse Rising. In v5.0.0, you’ll discover a wide array of structures and places outside the towns and cities. These locations can be used to construct a base, though there’s a lot to consider. Take Fort Ruins, for example: a very tall central tower that’s great for scouting, though the crumbling wall and fields of debris make it easy for bandits to attack. Alternatively, the Cemetery has a church with a bell tower that makes you quite visible, but it sits atop a large hill that offers cover from attacks. Determining which location is best is a choice we leave to you.

Keeping It Fresh

Sure, we’ve introduced plenty of new features since this game was launched last summer–vehicles, weapon attachments, sprinting, aiming down the sites of your gun. But most of what we changed involved enhancing things already in the game. In fact, v5.0.0 mostly consisted of changes and updates to existing features. There are two main benefits to updating existing features: One, it’s not as hard as coding an entirely new feature. Two, players don’t expect you to revisit something that had been deemed “finished.”

Sprinting is a good example. When we added this ability, it allowed you to run faster at the expense of hunger and thirst bar drainage. In v5.0.0, this idea has changed slightly. Each player has a hidden stamina value that regenerates over time. Now, sprinting and jumping use your stamina points, meaning when you run out of stamina, you can’t do either one! This change was implemented to address the issue of “bunny hopping,” where users would jump around infinitely to avoid getting shot. With this new system, players are forced to save their energy for when they’re in actual danger.

The in-game environment has also drastically changed in the last couple of months. We changed the baseplate color scheme from “bright green” to “grime,” and altered the skybox to have a dark overcast. We’ve also added several environmental sounds—birds chirp, and winds gust at the top of hills or towers. Though these were simple changes, we feel that they added a great deal of ambiance to our levels.

Staying Connected

People seem to appreciate that ZolarKeth and I keep them updated with what’s going on with the development of Apocalypse Rising. We go out of our way to keep our players updated on what’s going on internally. We explain each of the decisions we make, and why we chose to make them. We stay consistent.

When you have a popular title, players deserve to know what you’re doing to their favorite game. We’re always listening—and we’re open to opinions that we may not agree with initially. A very common request has been adding sniper rifles to Apoc (though we ultimately decided against it). Since we knew this was something our players wanted, we came up with an alternative: we added 17 new weapons, many of which are considerably accurate. We also added two new gun attachments that have the zooming capabilities of a sniper rifle. It’s a give-and-take—players were thankful that we considered their request, and grateful for an alternative.

In the past, we’ve held Q&A sessions on our Teamspeak3 server, where we’d invite anyone to join and ask questions about Apocalypse Rising. Afterward, we’d host a game including all those who attended. It’s important to actually spend time with people who play your game; it helps you relate to them. Gamers should always feel comfortable talking to developers and sharing their ideas. Without that connection, what’s the point of making a game?

The ROBLOX Experience

I’m not here to tell you how to develop your own ROBLOX game. I’m here to tell you what’s worked for ZolarKeth and I. If there’s anything I’ve learned while developing Apocalypse Rising for the last year, it’s that dedicating yourself to something can lead to unlimited achievement. All we wanted to do initially was create a game that was different than anything else you’d find on the front page. But seeing how players enjoyed the game so much, it became apparent that this was about more than creating something new. It was about making the game bigger, better, and more fun. We’re proud of Apocalypse Rising, and we look forward to seeing new and innovative games on ROBLOX.


Bonus: a V.5.0.0 Anecdote

While doing some research on Apocalypse Rising v.5.0.0, we noticed that only one user in all of ROBLOX had managed to earn the coveted Guardian Badge. The badge can only be earned by surviving for 15 days and killing 15 bandits. We talked with Germ, the first (and only one of two people to date) Apocalypse Rising player to earn this award, about how he was able to survive danger for such a long period of time.

ROBLOX: We noticed you were the only ROBLOX member who was able to earn this.

Germ: Yeah. It took a long time, but it was totally worth it.

ROBLOX: How’d you manage to do it?

Germ: Well, to begin, I needed to find some good gear. A military standard weapon, a backpack, food, and plenty of blood bags. I prefer to use the MK17, as it has great range.

ROBLOX: Did you team with any other users?

Germ: Not until the very end. I was pretty desperate at day 15. The key to long survival is staying away from anyone you don’t already know. People will back stab you in this game, you’ve got to keep an eye out.

ROBLOX: Tell us about your strategy.

Germ: I stayed under cover. I would wait under the cover of darkness and observe my targets. How many of them were in a group? How were they interacting? I would find and target weaknesses by scoping their bases and finding secret entrances. I also kept an eye on my chat log, to see if anyone mentioned important words like “ammo.” It’s really fun to watch player behaviors in Apocalypse Rising.

ROBLOX: Sounds like dynamic lighting has really changed the way the game is played, particularly at night time.

Germ: Totally. I use night as my hunting grounds–before, people could see a mile away. Now I can shield myself in darkness and use it to my advantage. Most bandits are like lighthouses at night–they love to pop flares and use their flashlights. They’re pretty easy to hunt, for the most part.